No, Hillary Clinton Will Not Make Preschool Great Again

Photo credit: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hillary Clinton wants universal preschool — to get children into institutional (preferably government-controlled) education as early as possible. Given her preference for the “village” over the family, Clinton certainly recognizes that herding toddlers into government preschool helps counter the uncontrolled influences of parents and families with other influences more compatible with government goals.

To this end, the Obama administration has long been pushing expanded government preschool. Congressional Republicans helped out by passing the Every Student Succeeds Act to pour more money and regulation into the effort.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently released a study arguing not only for moving more children into this institutional setting, but also for establishing national standards — aligned to Common Core — for these programs. (ETS is one of many organizations pushing Common Core which — imagine that! — have received grants from Common Core financier the Gates Foundation.)

Parts of the ETS study resemble a bad science-fiction script in which white-coated researchers take notes on small children as though observing exotic animals in the wild. The authors intone, seriously, that children should be placed on a “coherent learning pathway from birth through the early elementary years” and that preschool standards are necessary to lay out what toddlers “need to know and accomplish prior to entering kindergarten.”

Accomplish? A four-year-old is expected to have accomplished something before he starts kindergarten? This is lunacy. Preschool, if parents choose it for their children, should involve playing and coloring and listening to stories and taking naps, not “accomplishments.” If we don’t get a grip on this kind of thing, next they’ll be telling us boys should be allowed into girls’ restrooms.

In any event, the Gates-funded ETS argues that as long as the federal government has pushed Common Core onto the states, beginning in kindergarten, the accomplishment-inducing preschool standards should be aligned with Common Core. That way preschool can be standardized across the country, eliminating the dreaded “inequity” by ensuring all preschoolers are drilled according to the same garbage standards. Alignment would also allow teachers to share instructional strategies and all teach the same thing. We can’t have children in Kansas coloring duckies while Minnesotans are focusing on kittens.

And of course, these standards should emphasize “social-emotional learning.” The government must expect teachers to observe and record toddlers’ psychological development and attributes, which information will be fed into the state longitudinal database for future use. Children will be affected — perhaps haunted — by these subjective observations throughout their school careers, and maybe beyond.

Where to begin? First, much research establishes that government-sponsored preschool either has little benefit for children, or actually damages their development and learning.

For example, multiple studies (see HERE and HERE for the most recent) have established that the federal Head Start program doesn’t benefit children beyond the earliest years of elementary school. A federally funded study from 2012 showed that Head Start participation produces little to no benefit in either cognitive or social-emotional development. And in some areas, Head Start even has harmful effects. (Of course, this evidence has not diminished federal funding for Head Start – taxpayers have coughed up around $200 billion for this useless-to-harmful program since its inception.)

A more recent study of Tennessee’s pre-K program was similarly discouraging. This study found that participants in the state program showed no benefits by the end of kindergarten, and in fact, by first and second grade performed worse than children who avoided the state pre-K.

Numerous studies of Head Start and other state programs have shown initial gains but then either “fadeout” or decline/harm in subsequent years. According to pediatrician Dr. Karen Effrem, it’s not unusual to see an initial improvement that then disappears, or even deteriorates into decline, in both academic and behavioral parameters.

But even if there were solid evidence supporting government preschool, the suggestion that Common Core-aligned national standards be imposed is, to use a technical term, nuts. Early-childhood educators and other development experts have blasted the Common Core K-3 standards as grossly inappropriate from a child-development standpoint. In 2010, over 500 early-childhood experts issued a joint statement urging rejection of the standards as utterly incompatible with real human children and how they learn.

A probable reason for these deficiencies is that no K-3 teacher or early-childhood-development expert — not one — was included on the Common Core development team. So ETS urges taking standards created by utterly unqualified people, which are obliterating any enjoyment of learning among kindergartners nationwide, and shoving them down onto three- and four-year-olds? Is it now national policy to completely destroy our educational system? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

No, Hillary, we don’t need government preschool. No, we don’t need national preschool standards. And above all, we don’t need Common Core extended to wreak havoc on even more thousands of children. Stop.

Jane Robbins is a senior fellow at American Principles Project.